Kirsten on safari Rwanda, Uganda & Tanzania – Sep 2022 
Flying from San Francisco via Amsterdam direct into Kigali, Rwanda was a great way to go.  Long flights but, once arriving, our group was met and whisked through immigration and onto our transfer vehicle. The Retreat, where we stayed, was a lovely property sitting in a quiet neighborhood about 40 minutes from the airport. The rooms are spacious and overlook the pool and/or restaurant.  The food was very good and the staff lovely. 

Rwanda is exceptionally clean, I am not sure that I saw a single piece of trash.  After Genocide the new Government has a policy that the last Saturday or each month every citizen must do clean up, including the President. We had a tour of the fruit and vegetable market as well as the Genocide Museum the next day. The Genocide Museum was really well done and very informative.  

This evening I had made reservations at a restaurant that I had read about, Mesa Malonga, that was run by a young man who was inspirational in the culinary field and offered a 10 course tasting menu.  Wow, what a tasty experience of unique and unusual dishes. Quite a treat. 

Next day, we headed up to Virunga Lodge near Volcanoes National Park.  A beautiful lodge sitting atop a large hill with 360 degree views over Lake Burera & Ruhondo.  The rooms and large cottages spread down the hill from the main lodge. Food was the same menu each day, but was good.  The spa and sauna were fantastic and definitely worth the visit after a day hiking with the gorillas. 

An early morning departure for the hour drive to the park HQ. This is where everyone gathers to get instructions and gather your guide for the day.  Groups are of 8 pax + guide.  When you arrive at the parking spot you pick up your porters.  Some of our group had 3 porters each as the path can be super slippery and this way you have one person each side and someone to carry your pack.  Otherwise, most of us just had one each.  The tip ($20 per porter) helps the local community and it is totally worth it.  The total trip was about 7+ miles with an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet up and down.  Obviously, this depends on where the gorillas are on that particular day.  There are trackers that follow the gorillas from 7am to 4pm daily and are in contact with the guides so they know where we are hiking to.   

You are instructed to stay 10 meters from the gorillas but good luck…..they actually walk right past you and even nudge you out of the way. The Silverbacks are so chill and the guides make rumbling noises that tell the gorillas that everything is fine.  What an experience to be in the presence of such power and beauty.  They are so big but totally calm and really go about their business like we are not even a factor.  You can spend an hour with the family but that hour is amazing and feels like a lot longer. Heading back is surreal as all you can think about is the incredible experience that you just encountered. 

Virunga Lodge has a lovely spa area so I took advantage of a relaxing massage and then about 20 minutes in the sauna.  It is quite damp and cold up on the mountain so the sauna was quite something.   

Next was off to Uganda and Mt. Gahinga.  The drive is only about 2 hours but you have to go through the border, and that can take a little time.  Right after the border you head out on an unpaved road for about an hour – actually looks and feels more like a footpath!  Arriving at the lodge, which abuts the National Park (Mt. Gahinga is on the other side of Volcanoes National Park) and offers easy access to the park (depending on where the gorillas and/or golden monkeys are that day.   

The Himba people are the natives of the Volcanoes area and were relocated by the Government to make the NP years ago.  Many have dispersed into small groups, but Volcanoes Safaris bought some land near Mt. Gahinga Lodge and built a village for many of the families. The afternoon of arrival we walked along a narrow footpath, through another village, to see the Himba people. They are a very gentle people with wide smiles and friendly personalities. They treated us to a singing concert and we looked around the village before heading back.  It is great to have so many kids around as I love to take pictures of them (with permission of course) on my phone and show them – it is such a wonderful experience for them to see themselves and causes lots of laughs. 

The following day we had to drive about an hour to the start of the trek as the gorillas were the other side from Mt. Gahinga Lodge. Unlike the formalities that we had at Volcanoes NP headquarters, we just met our porters where we parked the car. After a short hike we arrived at the headquarters (really a small group of buildings where the guides/rangers stay) and met our guides who would be with us for the trek.   

The Lodge is beautiful. Built of stone from the local area it sits on the side of the mountain with manicured gardens and all the rooms (cottages) spread out with the main lodge in the center. Since there is no heat in either of the lodges, there are huge fireplaces in the main areas as well as the bedrooms (and lounges if they are the larger rooms) it can be quite chilly. Fires are always going in the main lodge and they will light fires for you whenever you would like them.  They make a huge difference and such a lovely touch. 

Another amazing encounter with the gorillas. This group was much more active with the youngsters causing commotions and the adults all engaged and interacting. Again, it was hard to stay the required distance from them as they would come all around you and play, run, climb and just be all around. The guides did a great job of helping us go where it was the least intrusive and not interfere with their movements. When your time is up, it’s hard to leave.   

The next day, it was a trek to see the golden monkeys. We left directly from the lodge but, unlike the gorillas, there was much more bush whacking but eventually we found them.  Primates are just such amazing creatures and so exciting to watch. They are so photogenic and hard not to take hundreds of pictures of them. Alas, the hour was up and back to the lodge with another massage in order, of course. This afternoon it absolutely poured. It was so lucky that we were off the mountain as I couldn’t even imagine how incredibly slippery and treacherous it would have been. Mt. Gahinga is nearly finished with a brand new Spa so that will be great. 

A very early departure (4am) to drive back to the border so we were a little rushed. There is an hour difference between Rwanda & Uganda (Uganda 1 hour ahead of Rwanda) but we made it to the airport in time for our flight to Kilimanjaro.  It was a really long day and we didn’t arrive at our hotel, Katambuga House a lovely 8 room boutique hotel with wonderful gardens near the Arusha airport, until 7pm. Dinner was very good and the wine even better.   

Next day, it was off to the Alex Walker’s Serian, Serengeti Lamai Wing and North Wing. Flying over the park shows just how varied it is with terrain, landscape, vegetation and how the rivers are really the life blood of the area. Finally, we flew over the Mara River on our approach to the airstrip.  We were met by our guides, Seni & Bene, and they whisked us off in our open 4 wheels drive vehicles (private vehicles per booking) to the camp, spotting game on the way, for about an hour.   

The Wings’ Tents are spacious with a very comfy bed, writing desk, a couple of loungers with a table and chairs outside. The attached bathroom has a flush toilet and a bucket shower as well as a sink with a jug of water. They are spaced heading out from the main lodge area but don’t have lots of privacy. Serian have moved their camp from just south of the Mara River to the same side as their Lamai camp so now there are 3 camps together, but they are run totally separate (1 larger for bigger groups, ours with 6 tents and then a private one with 4 tents each. After a little issue with the dietary requirements the food was very good, especially considering our remote location. Drives are done a little differently than most other camps in Africa as most of what you come to see is the migration and crossing of the river. You leave early morning and can be out 6 hours or even more to see a crossing. Breakfast is usually out in the bush and sometimes lunch, if you are waiting for a crossing.   

Watching a wildebeest migration crossing is quite exciting. Sometimes it is full of action with crocodiles and/or lions waiting and sometimes it is just about fighting the current and rocks to get to the other side. To be honest it is a spectacle that is very exciting to watch but all I think is how scary it is for the animals and that is why it can take, sometimes days, to cross. We saw 4 different crossings but that was not the only excitement. We had some amazing sightings (lioness moving her cubs, about ½ hour with a cerval in the daytime hunting, a larger black mamba eating a smaller black mamba and our guide catching it and showing us, amazing leopards). We drove to the Tanzania/Kenya border and then to top off our stay, after sundowner I drove the vehicle back to camp – how fun was that!!! 

Next it was onto Ruaha, one of my favorite Tanzania parks and Jabali Ridge. It is the height of the dry season and so it was crispy.  We were met by our guide, Emmanuel, in our special photo vehicle. It has 3 seats that swivel 360 degrees and has sides the lower so that you can lay down to take pictures. Quite a fancy vehicle and totally unique. Since it is so dry most of the action is around the 2 rivers, the Ruaha and the Mwagusi Rivers. Jabali Ridge is a spectacular property sitting on a kopje overlooking the valley and is built into the rocks and uses the landscape so well. With 8 cottages and a private house with 2 bedrooms, but they are run totally separately. The pool overlooks the valley and the spa is a room sitting next to the pool area with wonderful breeze action. The food was incredible and is all locally sourced. There is a map and list of where all the ingredients come from. Peter, the Chef, is incredible. He blends ingredients to develop a very unique flavor. He has travelled to hone his craft and it really shows. He is very proud of his work and it really comes out in the taste and presentation. I must say that I went into withdrawals when I went home and had to cook for myself!! 

We had some amazing encounters during our Ruaha stay but it is differing from the Serengeti. People need to be aware of that and not expect huge numbers of animals.  However, they will get treated to another type of safari and some incredible wildlife sightings. 

Finally, our time was up and I flew back to Dar es Salaam and had a dayroom at The Seacliffe. This property is a boutique hotel that sits on the waterfront looking at the Indian Ocean.  The rooms and bed are very nice and my Indian food meal was great. They have 3 restaurants that you can choose from. This is a nice dayroom option but about an hour from the airport. 

What a trip with so many different aspects and one that I would highly recommend for those that want a little more adventure. I’m here to help you plan your next African safari; it would be my pleasure.